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While the school saw the directive as a way to stave off interfaith dating, Bertrand and other students at the Hartsdale school said it encouraged creating a “self-imposed ghetto” that could generate resentment and even stoke the flames of anti-Semitism.“It was intended to promote Jewish continuity, but instead it insults non-Jews, it insults Solomon Schechter students, and it doesn’t reflect well on the school,” Bertrand said of the Jewish-only prom policy, which remains in place today.Worse, she said, the decree might inadvertently prove racist.“Most people can pass as Jewish,” said Bertrand, now 18, noting that school officials would be hard pressed to determine at the door who was Jewish.Others contended that trying to control personal decisions is bound to cause resentment among teens and alienate non-Jewish, intermarried parents of Gann students.

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“How will we, the next generation of Jewish adults, make decisions rooted in Jewish faith without the proper guidance during high school?Should kids not be allowed to have non-Jewish friends?” But Gann Academy Headmaster Rabbi Daniel Lehmann said there is a greater assumption of intimacy associated with the prom than with other school functions.Ultimately, Gann’s board of directors issued a written prom policy that Rabbi Lehmann called “a very strong statement about the board’s commitment to Jewish continuity as part of the mission of the school and the future of the Jewish people.” The policy affirmed the school’s goals to promote dating and marriage within the Jewish community, and asked students to “consider these goals when inviting dates to proms and dances.” Pankin said she was surprised that non-Orthodox schools would advise students about their prom dates.“You might expect this at Maimonides,” she said, referring to a prominent, Orthodox Boston-area day school, “but not at Gann, which is supposed to be much more pluralistic.” Many Orthodox high schools do not sanction mixed dancing and therefore do not sponsor traditional proms and dances.“We try to make it clear that bringing non-Jews to watch a school play or a basketball game is OK,” Rabbi Lehmann said.Gann students and faculty weighed in on the issue recently during a heated but respectful lunchtime “Debate Midrash.” According to Rabbi Lehmann, some students argued that dating patterns are significant, even in high school.Bertrand said the movement’s principles do not justify a Jewish-only policy at school social events.In a 2004 editorial published in the Westchester Schechter’s school newspaper, she wrote: “[The policy] shows a lack of respect for our friends as well as for non-Jewish faculty.“People are discussing, ‘Is it a school issue or a family issue?’ and of course people are reacting on both sides.” Carol Pankin, whose two teenaged sons attend Gann Academy, a community school in Waltham, Mass., where prom policy emerged as a hot-button issue this year, opposes interfaith dating, but said parents–not schools–should be the ones making decisions about dating and proms.

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